Syria: Houdaib family return to home

Feature Story, 30.10.2018 Syria/Homs/Family Houdaib by Josué Villalón
CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

The Houdaib family return to their home in Homs

 

“Thanks to the support of ACN International, we don’t feel alone”

 

The Houdaib family is an extended family, like so many other families in Syria. Evon is the mother and grandmother of the tribe. At the age of 80 she is still the head of the family, and especially now, since her husband George died of heart problems a few years ago. “We have 11 children, all of them still alive, thanks be to God. I know that this is somewhat unusual given the times we are living through in Syria today. Many families have lost children, parents, brothers or sisters.”

 

The family welcomes a delegation from the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) to their recently refurbished house in order to share with them their joy in returning to the family home. The Houdaibs had lived in this house since they were newlyweds. But in 2012, during one of the worst bombardments to hit the city, part of the roof came down, blocking the entrance to the house. The family home is on the ground floor of a block of flats in the Al Hameedye quarter, close to the historic centre of Homs. Until recently, in order to get to their home, you had to climb over a series of rubble barriers blocking the streets, barricades built during the fighting.

 

Today all this rubble has been cleared away from the streets, and although access is still difficult for vehicles, it is possible to come and go on foot with a degree of normality. Standing out among the buildings nearby is the Haiyar Palace, once one of the architectural jewels of Homs. People in the neighbourhood have put up some images of the Way of the Cross as well asa large cross in front of the building, which is surrounded by ruins. “Formerly this was a mainly Christian area, and we want to preserve this atmosphere, even though many of our neighbours still haven’t returned”, says Marwan, Evon’s eldest son.

 

Marwan expresses his thanks for the support of the local Church which, with financial help from ACN, has funded the repair work on his mother’s house. “We still rely on help, because we don’t have the money for medicines or to pay for an operation that my sister has to undergo. The fighting has moved on northwards from Homs, towards the Idlib region, but now we suffer from an enormous economic crisis- There is no work and the power cuts still occur.”

 

The local Church gave 500,000 Syrian pounds – or 1,500 Euros – to the Houdaib family. “It may not seem like much money in other countries, but here it’s a small fortune today. Of course we know that people outside Syria are helping us in a spirit of disinterested generosity. I don’t know how to thank them, we no longer feel alone, thanks to them”, says Ragaa, one of Evon’s daughters.

There are a number of grandchildren belonging to the third generation also gathered in the house,. Among them are Wael, aged 20, who works as a delivery man in a restaurant, and Joudi, 13, who is still at school and wants to go on and study pharmacy in the footsteps of her aunt Ragaa. They tell us that the most difficult thing to bear in these last few years was having to flee from one place to another, and suffer separation from their cousins and friends.

 

“Yes, it has been a great trial”, Evon confesses. “We had to go from here to Feiruzy, a small town on the outskirts of Homs, then from there to Hanessa, another place just outside the city. Then in 2016, after Homs was liberated, we returned here, but we couldn’t come back to the apartment until a few months ago, and that was thanks to the help of ACN.”

 

Despite the fact that many Syrians were forced to flee, some even abroad, the Houdaib family tried hard to remain united, and now they are very happy to be back together again. “The reason why we wanted to come back to our former home was to fulfil the wishes of our father George”, Marwan tells us. Evon nods in agreement, goes out of the room and returns with a photograph of her husband. “I’m so sorry that my husband was not able to see this house rebuilt; it was his great dream”, Evon adds.

 

Marwan now works as a driver for the archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the seat of which is the church of Saint Mary of the Holy Belt. This church is built over an ancient crypt which was a place of prayer for Christians dating back to the year 50 A.D. According to tradition, this church contains a belt once belonging to the Virgin Mary and given by her to Saint Thomas the Apostle upon her Assumption into heaven. It is a relic kept with great devotion and bears witness to the profound Christian roots of Syria. The Houdaib family is one of the many who come to this place to ask Our Lady’s protection and for peace in their country. “We have lost everything, but we have not lost our faith. We remain united, we go to church and celebrate Mass together. That is where we draw the strength that we need”, Evon tells us.

 

Theirs is one of the first 100 families who – thanks to the support of organisations like ACN – have so far been able to return and rebuild their homes after years of war and destruction. They know well that they still have many challenges ahead of them and a great deal of work to do, but they assure us that they will never leave this land, and that their home is open to anyone in need.

 

In May 2018 ACN supported the restoration of 100 houses in Homs, with a total of 300.000 Euros - SYRIA / NATIONAL 18/00370     


Breaking news: Asia Bibi Aquittal

ACN News, 31.10.2018 / Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s  Acquittal
by John Newton & John Pontifex CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

 

Asia Bibi’s family thanks God for her acquittal

Asia daughter says “I can’t wait to hug my mother”

 

Asia Bibi’s husband and daughter have today described news of her acquittal as the “most wonderful moment” of their lives – and thanked God for answering their prayers.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court this morning (Wednesday, 31st October) overturned the death sentence hanging over the Catholic labourer from Punjab who in 2010 became the first woman in the country condemned to death for blasphemy.

Speaking within a few minutes of the announcement today, Asia Bibi’s daughter, Eisham Ashiq, 18, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “I am so happy. I want to thank God.

And, speaking through an interpreter, she told the charity for persecuted Christians: “This is the most wonderful moment. I can’t wait to hug my mother and then celebrate with my family. I am grateful to God for listening to our prayers.”

Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, said: “We are very happy. This is wonderful news.

“We thank God very much that he’s heard our prayers – and the prayers of so many people who have longed for Asia Bibi’s release over all these years of suffering and anguish.”

Close family friend Joseph Nadeem said that on hearing the news the family immediately “danced for joy”. He added: “There were many tears – tears of indescribable joy.”

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Today is like the dawn of new hope for oppressed minorities.”

Saluting the courage of the judges in acquitting Asia Bibi in the face of fierce opposition from Islamist protestors, he added: “It is important that justice is not just seen to be done but is done.”

And Father Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which supports people accused of blasphemy with support from organisations including ACN, said: “I am glad that justice has finally been served.

“In the current developing situation and protests by extremist groups, May Our Lord bless and protect Asia and her family and keep all our Christian brothers and sisters safe here in Pakistan.”

The Supreme Court’s decision today overturns the 2010 sentence Asia Bibi received for insulting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable by death according to Article 295C of Pakistan’s Penal code – part of the so-called Blasphemy Laws.

The charge was brought against her following an altercation with Muslim co-workers who said that, as a Christian, she had contaminated a common water cup by drinking from it.

Throughout, Asia Bibi has protested her innocence and on 8th October the case had its final hearing at Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad.

At the time of the hearing, Asia’s daughter, Eisham, and husband, Ashiq, were in the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need, raising awareness of the case.


Scholarships for Young Syrians

Feature Story, 25.10.2018 / Syria/Youth by Josué Villalón

CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org 

 

Young Syrians: "We need the company of the Church to help us feel close to God."

 

"When we hear Pope Francis we realise that there is still hope of peace in Syria"

 

In Rome the universality of the Church is again evident: until 28 October the  Synod of Bishops will continue there. Participants from five continents are dealing with various topics related to young people, their needs and their problems. Against this backdrop the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has spoken to a number of young Christians in Syria. They explain what it means to them to be Christian and what they expect from the Church in their country, where they are a threatened minority that has been suffering from war for over seven years.

 

Majd Jallhoum recently completed her dental studies. She works helping to distribute emergency aid at the Greek Catholic church in Marmarita, in an area known as the "Valley of Christians". She asks the Church to be close to young people. "It does not have to be a perfect Church because none of us is perfect. But it should be close to us and know our wishes and what we long for." Majd knew nothing of the meeting between the bishops and the Pope in Rome. But she believes this is a good opportunity to focus on the difficult situations in which many young people live in various countries. "Here in Syria we young Christians desire to be very close to God. We are going through difficult times. We have experienced the death of friends and relatives. Many others have left the country. But we have also experienced times of joy. There is no doubt that the hand of God is behind these."

 

Majd knows from personal experience the situation of many families living as displaced persons in the "Valley of Christians". She often visits them to learn what they need, to accompany people to hospital or to distribute medications provided by ACN together with the local Church. "I stay here on account of my faith, even though I often lose hope. However, I have understood that my task is to remain here and help these people. My parents and some brothers and sisters have emigrated to the United States. But I have decided to stay here. My inspiration was and still is Jesus."

 

Hanna Mallouhi is also one of the displaced young persons in Marmarita who devote their time and energy to supporting the major relief work of the parish of St. Peter in the Valley of Christians. He fled from Homs five years ago to escape the bombing raids. Hanna is studying medicine. "Despite the war I didn't want to abandon my studies. I chose to do my internship in a hospital in Damascus. When the war is over I'd like to stay here and help people so that they can have a better life in Syria."

 

With regard to the Synod of Bishops he said: "For me it's important that we young people are accompanied by priests and responsible individuals who lead a simple life and that they show us through their actions that we are important to them. I need the company of people who are close to God so that I also feel close to Him."

 

There are also Christians still living in Homs, the third largest city of Syria after Damascus and Aleppo. They are found mainly in the old city of Homs, in the oldest quarter located at the foot of the ancient citadel. About 300 students gathered there in the recently reconstructed Melkite cathedral "Our Lady of Peace" to celebrate the Eucharist.

 

Pascal Napki was among them. He is studying economics and regularly follows the Holy Father’s messages from Rome: "I don't know Pope Francis personally. But from his words and deeds I see that he is a humble person. Every time we hear him we think that there is hope of peace in Syria. I am particularly moved when he calls for prayers for our country." Next to Pascal is Halil, a pharmacy student who quietly reflects for a few seconds about the question: "What do I expect of the Church?", and then answers emphatically: "I expect it to understand us, to encourage us and to give us the opportunity to have faith in ourselves as well. I know that this isn't easy. But it means taking the same road together, trusting one another and giving one another support."

 

After the meeting a group of young Christians goes for a walk in the quarter's narrow streets. Tannous explains that because of the suffering in Syria some people have turned away from God. "But the bombs, the ever present distress and the violence have destroyed neither the zest for life nor the future plans of the young people. That's why we as the Church must first encourage the young people to get close to God." During the walk they enter a nearby church to pray together there. It is a church of St. Mary belonging to the Syriac Orthodox community. "Here we all live together as Catholics and Orthodox as a matter of course. This is part of our culture."

 

As he enters the church Wisam says: "We pray for the Pope and for the Church in the whole world. Here faith is something fundamental. It makes up a large part of our identity. Over the past few years we have also overcome many difficulties in our families, in our studies and at work precisely because we have not lost our faith and our hope."

 

The testimony of these young people from the Christian community in Syria, a minority which has suffered a lot in the course of the armed conflict, can be an inspiration for others. According to the Syrian Church 1.5 million Christians were living in the country before the war. At present there are only about 500,000. The uncertainty, the violence and the threats from jihadi groups such as the so-called "Islamic State" have led to an unprecedented wave of emigration. The pontifical foundation ACN supports numerous projects for children and young people in various cities in Syria.


Syria: Supporting trauma healing courses

Feature Story, 11.10.2018 /Syria – Trauma Healing
by
Irmina Nockiewicz (edited by Maria Lozano) CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

ACN supports Good Samaritan course for trauma healing to assist Syrian families

“The war is not losing steam and after eight years there are scars that will never be erased” - says Father Halemba, the head of projects for the Middle East for Aid to the Church in Need with concern. Every military conflict is a catalyst to suffering for war torn countries, particularly areas where there are many children. Syria has no exception. The effects of these experiences are far beyond human capacity to deal with; this is the reason why ACN is determined to help those who suffer spiritually and mentally. The Good Samaritan workshops for post war trauma healing for Syrians is one of the initiatives supported by ACN. The courses are held at the Carmelite Sanctuary of the Holy Infant in Jounieh in Lebanon. “Time does not heal trauma – adds Fr. Halemba - this is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help Syrian families and communities to recover, who will do it?”

 “The suffering of war is not extinguishing”, states Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East Section of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “instead, its effects are growing like a tumour, the figures speak for themselves. According to the UN more than 13 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children. They are the most at risk as they face escalating threats of being permanently maimed by fighting, or emotionally scarred by all possible abuses including rape, forced marriages, slavery work, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education”.

According to his report after a recent trip to the country, “economic sanctions only worsen the situation, and in contrary to the declared objective, these sanctions punish civil society by limiting humanitarian activity in the war-torn country, where 6.6 million people have been internally displaced, and nearly 3 million are in hard-to-reach and besieged areas”.

Local Churches, thanks to international support, are playing a vital role in providing comprehensive relief services. “Christians in Syria are so humbly attempting to live at peace with their past. But many are spiritually and psychologically distressed and in desperate need to be supported,” says the polish priest. “Long-term exposure to war and post-war stress cause serious psychological consequences, it is universally true that horrific experiences are so deeply disturbing that they might even be overwhelming, especially for children. The trauma caused by the war implies dramatic behavioural changes leading to relationship problems, violence and other mental disorders. After all, a serious upsurge of post-conflict trauma was to be expected and this is what I hear about and witness when travelling to Syria.” PTSD is only one of the disorders in the wide spectrum of post-traumatic reactions.

“Time does not heal trauma,” insists Fr. Halemba. “This is why a person must be helped to express suffering and to confront bad memories. If we don’t help them who will do it?” reflects the priest and continues: “For this reason Aid to the Church in Need initiates this new project to support and guide towards healing people with psychological suffering especially the children. Due to the short supply and skyrocketing prices of medical services most people in Syria are unable to undergo any treatment at all.

The Good Samaritan course for trauma healing is carried out in cooperation with local Church partners and laity from other countries. This will not be one event, but a steadfast program, comprising weekly follow-up meetings combined with individual assistance and reinforced with refreshment sessions. The first session takes place 8-23 October 2018 in the Carmelite Sanctuary of Infant Jesus in Jounieh, in Lebanon, held especially for the clergy and laity, who will run the project in Syria afterwards.

A recent report by Unicef revealed that 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed. According to this report most children had experienced shelling nearby, they are traumatized by sorrow, extreme nightmares, and daily flashbacks of the horrific events, fear, insecurity and bitterness. Around 50 per cent had been shot at by snipers, and 66 per cent had been in a situation where they thought they would die. Almost one child in four has been wounded in the conflict. The number of orphans has greatly increased. The “lost generation” of those, are below 15 years of age, and have never been to school and are illiterate. Many of them are in a state of depression and attempt suicide. Child deaths soared by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.

Father Halemba stresses, ACN will do its best to encourage projects, which offer to the children and youth of Syria, an opportunity for hope, both literally and mentally and through sponsorship of: spiritual summer camps, family retreat, summer clubs programs, regional youth days etc. “For many of them it is for the first time in their life they have ever attended such youth events”.

The “Good Samaritan course for trauma healing project” is another initiative of the Catholic Charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) supports the local Churches in assisting those suffering in Syria. In addition to the therapeutic effect, ACN hopes that the study on trauma exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder will be indicative to further strategy and to break ground for humanitarian organisations specialised in this field.

It has been 8 long years since the beginning of the war in Syria, ACN benefactors have so kindly supported our poor and persecuted brothers and sisters with more than 28 million dollars.


Formation of 15 religious sisters in Brazil

Help for the formation of 15 young religious sisters in Brazil

It was only 30 years ago that the religious Institute the Sevants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matarà was founded in Argentina. Yet since then it has spread throughout the world, with 160 convents in 35 different countries on all five continents of the globe - such is the measure of its success to date.

A particular feature of the Institute is its love for the Eucharist, the Mother of God and the Holy Father. The apostolate of the sisters covers a wide field helping the priests in the parishes, giving retreats and catechetical instruction, teaching in schools, working in the youth apostolate. They also give selfless service in orphanages, handicapped children’s homes, old people‘s homes and hospitals. Some of the sisters also support expectant mothers in conflict situations, helping them to bring their children safely into the world. A number of them are also involved in the publication of theological books and literature. The Institute continues to attract many new vocations, particularly in Brazil. Here there are 15 young women currently in formation. They need our support so that they can receive a sound and solid training for the religious life and apostolate they will be engaged in.

We have promised to help this year with a contribution of 11,430 Euros.

 


PAKISTAN : Family of Asia Bibi interview

ACN News, 15.10.2018 / Pakistan / Family of Asia Bibi by Pierre Macqueron (ACN France)
CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

Nine years. That is how long Asia Bibi has spent in prison and on death row for an alleged blasphemy – which she has always denied. It is also how old her daughter Eisham was, back in June 2009, when she witnessed an enraged crowd beating her mother. Now 18, she met with ACN on Saturday 13 October in London, accompanied by her father, Ashiq Masih.

«We last saw Asia on Monday 1st October, before coming to the United Kingdom. She is well, physically and spiritually », her husband, Ashiq Masih, told ACN on Saturday 13 October in London. « After being accused of blasphemy, she has suffered, her whole family has suffered, for almost 10 years now. But by the grace of God, we hope she will very soon be set free », he added.

 

Invited to visit the UK by ACN, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to come and share the story of their wife and mother. « Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now», Ashiq recalled. « It’s a terrible thing for a husband and for a child. We have come here today to bear witness, to speak up and be a voice for Asia Bibi, who has been falsely accused of blasphemy. She has asked me to urge you to remember her in your prayers, to pray that she may very soon be set free. » Asia was accused of having « insulted » the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with two Muslim women from her village, who had refused to drink water from a glass that she had just used. Asia Bibi is the first woman to have been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s draconian anti-blasphemy laws.

 

Unwavering fidelity

 

Now that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which is Asia Bibi’s last hope, has stated on Monday 8 October, that it intends to « reserve its decision for the moment », her family members remain, are determined to remain, resolutely optimistic. « We believe that the Supreme Court judges intend to find in her favour », they insist. It is a conviction that is bolstered by a solid legal case and also on the astounding and unwavering hope of this family, who confess that they draw their strength « from the Lord Jesus Christ, who hears the prayers of those who suffer ».

Yet there are all too many reasons for despair for this family, who have been forced to live in hiding in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject. Mere allegations of blasphemy regularly end up with the lynching of those accused, and Christians are frequently targeted, as a persecuted minority.

 

Ever since its statement on Monday 8 October, Islamist fundamentalists have been demanding that the Supreme Court carry out the sentence pronounced against Asia Bibi by the two lower courts, namely death by hanging. An absolute wave of violence has been unleashed on social networks: « If you free Asia Bibi, prepare yourselves for more Mumtaz Qatris », is their sinister threat. Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in 2016, was the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, on 4 January 2011, for having publicly spoken up in defence of Asia Bibi and for criticising the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. These laws were introduced by the British at the time when the British Indian Empire included what is today the country of Pakistan. Since 1986, under the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), this controversial legislation has made blasphemy punishable by the death penalty.

 

«We cannot remain in Pakistan»

 

Besides, Ashiq is quite lucid in recognising that « everyone is afraid; everyone is facing threats – the supporters of Asia Bibi, her lawyers, her judges. » Nevertheless, one can see that he is proud of living in Pakistan, among the Muslims, who represent almost 96% of the population. He goes on to add, « not all of them are in favour of the execution of Asia Bibi. There are many people who understand that we are suffering. But the extremists, and the fundamentalist organisations are also very numerous. » Numerous, and extremely vindictive, as Father Emmanuel Yousaf, the president of the Justice and Peace commission of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, emphasises.

 

And so, it is with a heavy heart that Ashiq acknowledges that his family can no longer remain in Pakistan. And while he is not revealing the place of their exile, he nonetheless continues to trust in providence: « God will take care of Asia Bibi and her family. He will find us a peaceful place. God will choose for us. » A peaceful place, from which her daughter Eisham is determined to continue her studies in law in order to become a barrister, and so to be able to help the poorest and those accused of blasphemy.


Syria: ACN Rebuilding in Aleppo

ACN News, 04.10.2018 / Syria/Aleppo by Maria Lozano
CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

Syria – ACN embarks on reconstruction programme in Aleppo

The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is sponsoring 32 new projects in Syria, at a total cost of 1.8 million Euros, for the restoration of the material and spiritual life of the Christian population there.

  • Children, women and the sick will be among the first to benefit from the aid programmes
  • Among the seven reconstruction projects for the physical infrastructure of Aleppo, one of the cities most damaged during the war, there are three cathedrals

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is embarking on a programme of reconstruction and restoration in Aleppo, one of the cities that suffered most from the consequences of the war. Among the seven projects for the physical reconstruction of the city there are three involving Catholic cathedrals, namely the Armenian, Maronite and Syrian Catholic cathedrals. These three cathedrals not only represent the riches of the Eastern Rites in Aleppo, but are at the same time a symbol of the Christian roots of the city.

“The churches are like lighthouses in the ocean; they are a source of security and hope, and are but one of the first steps towards encouraging the return of the uprooted Christians here – as ACN well knows, having been so involved in the reconstruction of the towns and villages destroyed by IS in Iraq”, emphasises Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the project section responsible for Syria at the international headquarters of the foundation. Last year ACN also sponsored the reconstruction of the Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Homs.

In addition to supporting two parish community centres and a biblical study centre, ACN has promised help to complete the renovation work on a centre for autistic children which has been run by Franciscan missionary sisters for the past 21 years. The building is very damp due to the breakdown of the heating system during the war, and poses a real danger to the health of the 15 children cared for daily there.

All this is being done on top of the ongoing aid programmes for the hundreds of displaced families that ACN has been supporting from the very beginning of the conflict in 2011 in Aleppo and in other cities such as Homs and Latakia. “Although we would like these families to be able to return to their homes and be able to begin a new life, there is still a good deal to be done in order to make this possible. And meanwhile we cannot cut off our aid, since the local churches cannot take on this burden. According to UNHCR some 13.1 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance today. “Those who are suffering most are the poorest”, Father Halemba explains. That is why ACN will be spending two thirds of the 1.8 million Euros allocated on renewed emergency aid packages. These will include among other things paying the rent for 340 families in Homs, providing medical assistance for around 700 people in Aleppo and a monthly allowance for food and healthcare over the next six months for 1,725 of the poorest families in Latakia.

Along with these 32 projects recently approved, the number of projects that the international foundation ACN is carrying out in Syria in 2018 now totals 121 valued at almost 7 million euros.

“The suffering is not over yet!”, Father Halemba insists. “We face massive challenges simply in easing the terrible wounds inflicted over the past eight years, and at the same time we cannot forget that the future of these people lies in our hands and that we have a responsibility towards them.”

 


18 OCTOBER: Kids Pray the rosary for peace

Interview, 01.10.2018 / Rosary Prayer for Peace by Tobias Lehner
CONTACT: press@acn-intl.org

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED (ACN) is issuing an open invitation to participate in an extraordinary event taking place on 18 October: “One Million Children Praying the Rosary”. We talked about this prayer initiative with Father Martin Barta, the Spiritual Assistant of ACN International.

 

What is this prayer campaign about and when was it started?

The idea for the campaign came about in 2005 in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. While a number of children were praying the rosary at a wayside shrine, several of the women in attendance strongly felt the presence of the Virgin Mary. They immediately thought of Saint Padre Pio’s promise: “When one million children pray the rosary, the world will change.” And that is exactly what this is all about: having faith in the power of children’s prayers. After all, Jesus teaches us: “Except ye … become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).

 

How can people join in the campaign?

Quite simply: we are inviting teachers, priests, kindergarten teachers and parents to pray the rosary together with children on 18 October for peace and unity in the world. ACN has instructional materials on the prayers of the rosary, posters and a letter of invitation for children and adults.

 

Why the 18th of October?

October is traditionally the month of the rosary; the 18th is the feast day of Saint Luke the Evangelist. He has handed on to us the story of Jesus’s childhood and, according to tradition, is said to have been close to Our Lady, the Mother of God. Therefore, the date is quite fitting.

 

Why has AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED gotten involved in this prayer campaign?

We not only see ourselves as a pastoral charity, but also as a prayer community. Our founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, deeply venerated Our Lady of Fatima. There, the Virgin Mary proclaimed to the visionary children, “Pray the rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world.” The daily project work that carried out by ACN in 149 countries allows the organisation to see first-hand just how greatly Christians and the entire world are suffering from the effects of terrorism and war. Only God can bring peace. We can play a part in this – through our work, but first and foremost through our prayers.

 

Do you receive reports from the world church on how many children take part?

Our materials for the prayer campaign are available in 25 languages, including, for example, Arabic and the West African Hausa language. Children from around 80 countries and on all continents are taking part. Accounts of the events are frequently sent to ACN, over the past year we received reports from countries such as Argentina, Cuba, Cameroon, India and the Philippines. It is truly a campaign of the world church!

 

Children and the rosary: this is not an easy connection to make for the churches in our part of the world. How do you get young people excited about these prayers?

I believe that it is actually the other way around: children are far more open to the rosary than a lot of adults. When the rosary is prayed correctly and under proper guidance, it reveals a view of the Virgin Mary, one that grows more intimate the longer you pray the rosary. And this intimate view of Our Lady is something that we can learn from the children!

For more information on the prayer campaign, go to: www.millionkidspraying.org